Spoiler Alert and Appropriately Long Explanation: There is no way I can talk about this character in any substantive manner without completely spoiling Knights of the Old Republic 2. It’s really just impossible without being so vague as to be meaningless, or too brief as to not merit an article. Learning who this character is, it is one of the rewards of advancing through the game. If you hope to play KotOR2 and don’t want a lick spoiled for yourself, then this article isn’t for you. Most of this article is a spoiler as is nearly everything I link in it. But it must be done because damn this character’s good.
We are used to women characters in video games being little more than blow up dolls or utterly effete caricatures of womanhood that are as vapid as daytime television. We are used to women villains and antagonists whose sole weapon is sex and whose existence is meant to evoke a nightmare of what might happen if we ever had control over our own bodies. The femme fatale dominatrix, as lifeless a cardboard cutout as the name of any such trope evokes.
All the foregoing is why I love Knights of the Old Republic 2’s Kreia endlessly. Because she is none of those things, and so much more.
You are immediately arrested by how her voice captivates, beautifully and hauntingly rendered by Shakespearian actress Sara Kestelman. A voice that is leaden with age, weight, wisdom, and a profound sense of her own history. She was once a Jedi Master, and was once a Sith Lord; now she is truly neither and your character- The Exile, a Jedi Knight who was cast out by the Order for marching to war against the wishes of the Jedi Council- now finds that Kreia is their mentor, their teacher.
Yet Kreia, by herself, puts the writing of every single Star Wars movie, and that of several of the novels, to complete shame. She is like no Master you’ve seen before- not a towering beacon of limitless hope and platitudes, and like no Sith you’ve seen before- no cartoon villain unrestrained hate and wanton destruction from her. She is a woman haunted by her past, having trained great Jedi, only to see her teachings spat upon by the Jedi Masters, only to see her students cast out or tarred as fallen. Her one selfish drive is to prove that they were wrong.
She would fall to the Sith, become Darth Traya, and- in her words:
“What do you wish to hear? That I once believed in the code of the Jedi? That I felt the call of the Sith, that perhaps, once, I held the galaxy by its throat? That for every good work that I did, I brought equal harm upon the galaxy? That perhaps the greatest of the Sith Lords knew of evil, they learned from me?“
It doesn’t take long for the Exile to begin getting to know her mentor, and the sheer weight of Kreia’s past is briefly hinted at in dialogue such as this. Yet in the end, she cast aside the mantle of Sith, finding no more peace, no more truth in the narrow confines of their teachings than she did in those of the Jedi. She endured great pain, only to climb out of the hole she had dug for herself, but not back into the light.
Why do I love this character? Because she embodies a great moral complexity. She is not a cliched villain, twirling her moustache and laughing wickedly as she does evil for its own sake. She is no villain at all, but neither is she a hero. Throughout the game she forces your character to think critically about seemingly straightforward moral judgements, good or evil, and implores you to consider the consequences, the echoes of your actions. Sometimes it is clear that her jadedness has gotten the better of her, other times she makes you step back and question. Some accuse her of being a Sith, but that is far, far too simple a title for her. As she says: “Sith’ is a title, yes, but like you, the title is not who I am.”
Throughout this game your mind whirs and reels as you try to pierce the veil of her teachings, her occasional obfuscations and mystifications, and debate with yourself about whether her judgements of your actions are correct or misguided.
To make my point abundantly clear, you are not thinking about her tits.
Kreia is not a Sith, and not a caricature or cliché of evil, but nor is she a paragon of virtue. In this lies her moral and personal failing, but it is also what makes her most interesting. She is the embodiment, perhaps, of a Machiavellian philosophy. Swaddled in shapeless robes she seeks to mentor the Exile, your character, into fighting the new Sith threat. She wants her last student to be her greatest, to do what she cannot. She is not virtuous, but she knows you can be. She feels that even after having turned away from the Sith there is no salvation for her, save death. But she feels you can be saved, and use the powers she teaches you to wield in order to confront and destroy this latest threat.
The threat that takes the form of her two old Sith apprentices, Darth Sion and Darth Nihilus.
“No game of dejarik can be won without pawns, and this may prove to be a very long game.” ~Kreia
The tangled web she weaves ensnares you, and in my case I loved every second of it. Kreia could easily have fallen into the stereotype of being a ‘manipulative witch’ or somesuch. But she’s far, far too clever for that. Throughout the game her machinations and manipulations are those of a virtuouso. Oftentimes, they are chilling. They leave you with a sense that only someone like Kreia, morally bereft after having walked where she has walked, could manipulate others, manipulate events in the callous way she does for the sole purpose of advancing a higher good.
And perhaps a selfish end, a selfish end that is born of the fact that this woman is, at heart, a teacher. A teacher who has been broken upon failures, wounded by the scorn of her peers, cast out and betrayed twice, who at the end of all things wants only to hear that she was right. That her teachings were correct.
The essence of what Kreia taught Jedi was that reliance on the Force was weakness, and that true strength came from not needing it. More dangerously she even suggested that the Force itself was unnecessary, and that perhaps much pain could be spared if it were gone from the universe. She chose your character to become her final, greatest pupil because your character- canonically- turned away from the force at the end of the war she ran off to fight. She held the power of the Jedi in her hands and cast it aside. Unwillingly, as an act of self-preservation (the game and or Wookipedia will explain in greater detail why), but cast it aside all the same and learned strength without the Force. In you she saw hope, for both her teachings, and hope for the galaxy against this newest threat.
The game becomes deeply philosophical at this point and Kreia’s ideology is drawn into sharp relief. At the end of the game you fight her erstwhile apprentices, people utterly drunk on and dependent on the Force. Your victory is meant to show that having turned away from the Force, as your character did, is not weakness but strength, and their ability to command it again (you level as a Jedi during the events of the game) is enhanced because of the time you spent without the Force.
All of this is deeply and inextricably intertwined with Kreia’s character: Kreia the mentor, Kreia the rebel, Kreia the exile. In the very end, she wanted to do what could be broadly called “the right thing”- but the road she took was carved by her history, the scars of the Sith she wears plainly in her words, leavened by the hard lessons she learned on her torturous journey. In the end she tells your character, someone she admits to loving as only a Master may love an apprentice:
“Yes, always. From the moment you awoke, I have used you. I have used you so that you might become strong, stronger than I. I used you to keep the Lords of the Sith from condemning the galaxy to death with their power unchecked. I used you to lure them to Telos, where they could be, at last, fought and killed. I used you to reveal Atris’ corruption, so that her teachings could be ended before they began. I used you to gather the Jedi so they could be destroyed. And I used you to make those who wounded me reveal themselves, so they could be killed by the Republic.“
In this is both virtue and evil. She came to believe that both the Jedi and the Sith were deleterious to the galaxy. Atris, one of the old Jedi Masters who had cast your character out (and whose kickass poster I reviewed recently), had fallen to the Dark Side. Kreia knew this. Yet she also sought to end the influence of the three remaining Jedi Masters you discover over the course of the game, rather permanently. People who judged her, and indeed who judged your character as well. Twice.
Even if your character blazes a trail of light across the galaxy and redeems herself with noble deeds every step of the way, at the end the Jedi Masters say you cannot be allowed to use the Force any longer and threaten to return you to exile after forcibly deafening you to the Force. It is, in the end, Kreia who saves you.
“Step away! She has brought truth, and you condemn it? The arrogance! You will not harm her. You will not harm her ever again.“
Mind you, these cold quotes in text do not do justice to the power of Kestelman’s delivery. There was love and thought poured into both Kreia’s writing, and into the acting that Ms. Kestelman used to give life to this character. The video links I’ve posted are relatively sizeable spoilers but capture her at poignant moments that demonstrate her in all her complexity. Manipulative and caring (in her own way), virtuous and sinister, light and dark, teacher and mother, she does- as they say- contain multitudes.
What I love most about her, perhaps, is the fact that she is a woman in the position of both protagonist and antagonist, and one who at last becomes both a woman Gandalf and a woman Saruman… and then transcends both archetypes. She is an elder woman, robbed of her left hand, blinded- not wantonly, it all has purpose and is all very much a part of her. But she is no sex object, she is no mere tool for heterosexual male pleasure. She is a character who could keep you up nights with philosophical debates about her, who inspires essays as long as this, and who is a study in psychology unto herself. She is the Lady of Betrayal, and teacher of a redeemer (at least if you go the light-side route).
She had endured a hard road, and at the end of the game she returned to her place in the sanctum of the Sith Academy on Malachor V not because she had fallen again, but as one final manipulation, to leave her second former apprentice Darth Sion at your character’s mercy.
And to finally put your teacher to rest.
Her story is a beautiful, philosophical tragedy in many acts. She was a rich tapestry of a figure and was, despite being the “final boss” and wielding a red lightsabre in that fight, much much more than a mere villain. Her two ex Sith apprentices, Sion and Nihilus, were shallow underdeveloped villains, menacing and wicked in all the right clichéd ways. Kreia was someone who always made you doubt whether she was evil, or good, and in the end wanted to raise a Jedi who could beat back the evil that she, in her folly, had brought into the world, and a Jedi on whose lightsabre she might fall so that she could return to the Force she hated so dearly.
I could go on endlessly about her- and that is itself a testament to the richness and completeness of her character. But suffice it for me to say, she is the character done right. She’s not just my favourite video game character, but my favourite in any medium. Well done, Obsidian. Other developers, take note.
Kreia is one hell of a woman.